Sunday, October 13, 2013

Taught by Ira Millstein, a Colossus in Corporate Governance

Prof. Ira Millstein
I knew my time at Columbia University would be memorable, but even before the end of A Term of the First Semester, I am having incredible encounters that would stick with me for a very long time, and one of them is meeting the Colossus of American corporate governance, Prof. Ira Millstein.

Prof. Millstein taught me Corporate Governance together with Holly Gregory. These Americans are in my view the epitome and repository of knowledge and competence on matters relating to corporate governance.

The two taught the subject with such depth and passion that left me wondering about the little I knew about the subject before the class began. I have heard about corporate governance and attended a couple of workshops on the subject, but I had until meeting Millstein and Gregory never thought it was far more important than it had been made to appear from all the other times I have heard about the subject.

Prof. Millstein's personality is literally conjoined to the subject. There is a Millstein Centre dedicated to him at Columbia and an annual Millstein Corporate Governance Forum instituted since 2006 at the Columbia Law School where he has been teaching for a long time now.

Prof. Millstein, is a man of character, with intent for greater good and an asset not only to the American people but to the world. Despite his advanced age, I suspect he must be in his 70s, is still alert and consistent and very logical in his line of argument.

During class discussions with other experts, (he invited various people with expertize in different aspects of corporate governance to lecture the class) and he knows when to interject with a comment or question. Never have I seen him for once drift off from the main issue on discussion.

Great people like Prof. Millstein gives hope to the world and humanity, especially in these trying times when the US government has been shut down, and in my own country, Ghana, the news coming out points to a gloomy economy, with the government being accused of not setting its priorities right. The Ghana government has also raised the cost of utilities and other taxes, because it says it needs to pay for the cost of producing the services, and it has a widening budget deficit - in 2012 the government run a deficit of almost 12 percent and as at the end of August 2013 the budget deficit stood at 7.3 percent.

Meanwhile, this same government has been reported to be literally throwing money at its cronies in very suspicious and almost phony national enterprises and projects. And while some of these transactions have been found to be phony, no one has been arrested yet or punished - a very bad example of corporate governance, and it appears we haven't seen the last questionable deal yet, many more are yet to be exposed by the few yet to be compromised journalists who are already coming under great pressure to accept huge gifts like some others have and keep mute.

In such difficult moments, Prof. Millstein gives hope to some of us, who have found ourselves on the side of the people. The majority who are voiceless, and depend on the established order, that is governments to ensure the atmosphere for their existence through the proper administration of public funds and individual investments.

The few in public office and in big business, who control so much of the world's wealth and resources, who swear to the laws of their countries to perform their duties with due diligence and in upholding the law, but fail to do so, not only hurt the people but are more likely to end up in ignominy.

Corporate governance is so important that its pursuance and enforcement should be done with all the passion and dedication necessary for attaining very high levels of efficiency, to protect lives and investments and ensure economic growth.

The ripples of the financial crisis that hit America and Europe in 2008 are still being felt, and the conducts that lead to that incident were clearly in violation of good corporate governance principles among which includes accountability.

Prof. Millstein has made an indelible impact on me, after I have taken his class. On the last day of the class, he organised a party for us and told us he will miss us. I know the class will miss him too. And I will from now on, never write or talk about corporate governance without making reference to Prof. Millstein. He is indeed a Colossus of corporate governance and America and the world owes him gratitude not only for his intellectual contributions to corporate governance, but also for his ethical stand on the issues. He is a good man and the world has been impacted to a large extent by his immeasurable contributions to corporate governance and now I have had the glorious benefit of learning at his feet.

According to his biography, Prof. Millstein who graduated from Columbia Law School in 1949 is the director of the Columbia Law School and Columbia Business School Program on Global, Economic & Regulatory Interdependence.

He is a senior partner at the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and he has counseled numerous boards on issues of corporate governance.

His biography notes that he has counselled among others, the boards of General Motors, Westinghouse, Bethlehem Steel, WellChoice (fka, Empire Blue Cross), the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), Tyco International, the Walt Disney Co., the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Ford Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

He is a member of the board of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center and serves as pro bono counsel to the board of directors of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the agency overseeing the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan.

He was appointed by former Governor George Pataki as chairman of a New York State Commission on Public Authority Reform, which led to the 2009 Public Authorities Reform Act, and he currently serves as chairman of the governor's task force overseeing implementation of the Act.

In addition to his active legal practice, Millstein is the senior associate dean for corporate governance and the Theodore Nierenberg Adjunct Professor of Corporate Governance at the Yale School of Management.

In November 2006, the School of Management renamed its corporate governance center the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance in honor of Millstein. He is the chairman emeritus, having served as chairman from 1999 to 2005, of the Private Sector Advisory Group to the Global Corporate Governance Forum founded by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). He served as chairman of the OECD Business Sector Advisory Group on Corporate Governance from 1997 to 1998 and as co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Improving the Effectiveness of Corporate Audit Committees (sponsored by the New York Stock Exchange and the National Association of Securities Dealers) in 1998–1999.

In 1997, he was appointed by Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to the U.S.-Russia Capital Markets Forum Working Group on Investor Protection. In 1996, Millstein chaired the National Association of Corporate Directors' blue ribbon commission on director professionalism.

Prof. Millstein is a gift to humanity and I am grateful for the opportunity to be taught by him.

If you ever get to read this blog, Prof. Ira Millstein, remember that I will miss you too, and I will forever remain grateful that you have taught me.

Thank you.

PS: When I wrote this blog I only assumed Prof. Millstein would be above 70 years. I have later been told that he is 87 years.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The America I came to, three months away from home

On Columbia University campus.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

I have not written on my blog for a long time now. While I still can't find time due to the heavy load of academic work, I am going an extra mile this Sunday evening to write something. Something I believe you will enjoy reading and probably learn something from.

As I was growing up, I have always wanted to travel around the world - probably a dream I have just like most children do, and this dream might have been influenced by what we read in books or see on TV. And as much as that was a big ambition, it was a far away dream for someone like me. That was almost an impossibility, a mirage. Meanwhile, I have been told several times that I have a bright future, but the realities of my circumstances made that future dim.

My dream of travelling around the world took a long time to come, while I have had the opportunity to travel around the 10 regions of Ghana reporting on issues from the environment, women and children.

The realities around me almost made my hopes of travelling around the world a pipe dream.

There were times when I have vacillated between very high optimism and the very low ebbs of despair and despondency. There were times in my life that I have almost given up. Moreso, because I have chosen a profession that in my country is often rewarded only when you do it wrong. The only way I have been repeatedly told I could 'succeed' as a journalist is not to tell the truth, not to expose wrongdoing by powerful people, and to accept bribes in various forms. There are many 'journalists' who have 'succeeded' that way, by receiving bribes from corrupt politicians and crooked business people and cronies of people in power.

I have not made money from journalism yet, but the most elating experiences of my career in more than the two decades of practice were not when I have made any material gains but moments when I have alerted the public to danger, dug out and shared useful information and broke some news ahead of others. I have not made money from journalism, but I have kept faith with the profession and it appears the profession is keeping faith with me, no matter how long it took - my patience and endurance are paying off - and some of this characteristics I owe to my Late mother. May her soul continue to rest in peace. She has always told me to be patient. I was a hot-headed little boy, impatient at everything and everyone around me. I am glad I listened to her.
I have continued to do journalism even though I have had opportunities to switch to other careers. There is nothing I love more than writing. And indeed, the fact that journalism has the ability to do good, to speak for the downtrodden and voiceless; groups that I have a strong affinity with, probably because of my background growing up in challenging circumstances.

Today, as I write this blog, I am living in New York City, 'The Big Apple'. And I am beginning to realise that living in New York City is every American's dream."It's the place to be", someone had told me. This makes me feel lucky or even blessed.

Besides, I am not only living in New York City but studying at Columbia University, an Ivy League institution rated this year as the World's 10th Best University.

Coming to America after a whirlwind travel around the world in the last two years has been a real big change. A change for the better, I hope and an indication that 'A prophet is not honoured by his own people'. I have mostly felt mistreated and unappreciated in my own country, in spite of the evidence of my contributions to the country's good at my own expense.

In the last three months that I have been living and studying in America, I have come face-to-face with the realities that confront humans everywhere. Despite travelling around the world and meeting different people in different cultures I am still dealing with culture shock in America - details of which I would write about at a latter date.

I am having issues with the food. At one point I almost threw up in class soon after lunch and that has compelled me to do my own cooking at home these days. I eat less outside.

But more importantly, since coming to Columbia I have made some great friends, people around whom I feel very comfortable and happy to be with. My colleagues in the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship and some Cluster mates at the Columbia Business School. There are other really amazing people outside my cluster who have made me feel welcome. Some of the professors and staff of Columbia make life so easy for me.

There are these special people who have made me to feel like I was family and I can't help but mention them, the Maxwells - Dan, Joyce and their children, Patrick and Clare. I spent a weekend with the Maxwells in Boston. There are also Karen Dean and her husband Nathan Waxman who hosted me for two weeks at their apartment before I moved to campus.

I am not done yet with my transition into American society, one academic year looks like a long time, and it has only been three months.